On Nov. 1, Joanna Kaizer ’22 sent out a petition to the student body asking the College to reimplement last semester’s universal pass/fail policy for the 2020-21 academic year. As of Wednesday morning, the petition had amassed 261 signatures, and the support of 11 student organizations.
According to last semester’s policy, students automatically received a “P” (pass) on their transcript for any course in which they earned a D- or higher. After viewing their final letter grades at the end of the semester, students could elect to instead have their transcript show the letter grade they had received. At the time, Dean for Academic Advising and Support Thomas Hawks described the policy as a compromise between the concerns of students completing the year under adverse circumstances and of students who wanted or needed their transcript to reflect their work.
Earlier this semester, the deadline to opt to change a class to or from pass/fail was extended by two weeks. This deadline passed several weeks ago. While this extension showed recognition on the part of the faculty of the difficulties students are facing this semester, the petition’s popularity suggests that many felt this extension was insufficient.
However, Student Council Vice President for Academic Affairs Delaney Gallagher ’23 confirmed that the Council will discuss the petition in the coming weeks. “Throughout the semester, we have seen many changes from the faculty that have helped move us on a more lenient path, but there is still progress to be made,” Gallagher wrote in a message to the Collegian. She stressed that implementing a new policy this late in the semester may be difficult, but that “it is a discussion that at the very least needs to happen.”
President Sean Decatur noted that he had not had any conversations about revisiting this policy in recent weeks.
In her petition, Kaizer argues that, like last semester, many students are not in a position to perform their best academically. “Not even on Kenyon’s campus are students safe from this crisis, and many remote students are in more precarious, and even dangerous, situations,” Kaizer wrote in the petition.
The petition outlines the struggles students face while studying both on and off campus, including feelings of anxiety and isolation. At the same time, it argues that the stress is more extreme for students studying remotely, who don’t have access to many College resources. These students, the petition notes, may have many additional responsibilities alongside their academics, and may not have a quiet environment where they can participate in classes.
The petition also states that, while professors have had the opportunity to adjust their syllabi, not enough have done so. Kaizer described this problem in the Collegian interview, stating that, in her view, professors are teaching “as if everything is ‘normal.’”
But in Kaizer’s eyes, this semester is far from normal, and she is calling on the Kenyon community to recognize that. “Academics can’t be the main focus for some people right now,” Kaizer said.